Dino-fuzz & Asteroids: Dinosaur Round-Up

You might remember (probably not) a while ago that I had a bit of a … well, a rant about dinosaur coverage in the media. Well I’m back. But this time its not a rant. Well, its 50% rant, 50% awesome.

We’ll do the happy dance first … which is all based around this guy:

Kulindadromeus zabaikalicus - Art by Andrey Atuchin

Kulindadromeus zabaikalicus – Art by Andrey Atuchin

Brian Switek (he of the Allosaurus tattoo) does a very nice write up of the story and the implications over at his slice of National Geographic’s Phenomena blogging salon, Laelaps.

In a nutshell, dinosaurs are primarily one of three large families – theropods (home to Sexy Rexy, “raptors” and the bird-lineage), sauropodomorphs (Diplodocus and the like), or ornithischians (horned beasties, armoured/spiked beasties, “duck-billed” beasties). Ornithischia (literally: bird-hipped, due to the bird-like structure of the pubis – despite birds themselves coming from a different lineage altogether) also included families of mostly bipedal dinosaurs that were remarkable in being pretty … well, unremarkable. By that I mean that they were generally small, unspecialised beaked dinosaurs.

Two ornitischians have been found with … “integumentary traces”. One is a Psittacosaurus (a type of basal ceratopsian from the early Cretaceous – which is actually pretty cool for various reasons already) with bristle-like forms on its tail. The other is Tianyulong (a tusked heterodontosaurid from the late Jurassic with filamentous structures on its back, tail and neck), but the dino-fuzz found on Kulindadromeus has a few implications that may be a bit cool.

In brief, this little munchkin sits further back in time (mid to late Jurassic) and a part of the dinosaur family tree that could show that dinosaurs weren’t just the scaly giant lizards that chunks of the populace still believe. There’s more I could say here, like how pterosaurs have a kind of ‘fuzz’ and how alligators have dormant genes for feather production so this could point to a much earlier presence of integument but as Brian puts it:

… while the headline that “all dinosaurs had feathers” stretches the evidence too far, [they] are correct that dinosaurs probably sported a variety of filamentous body coverings in addition to scales.



Mammals feasting on fried Troodon at the San Diego Natural History Museum. Photo by Brian Switek

Mammals feasting on fried Troodon at the San Diego Natural History Museum. Photo by Brian Switek

Now, the other part of this post has been the reporting of a study that the dinosaur extinction at the end of the Cretaceous was just plain bad luck. I’m going to link you back to Brian’s write-up for a good take on it. The gist is that if the asteroid had hit a few million years earlier or later then the dinosaurs would’ve survived – maybe not intact, but there you go. Turns out that their environment and food chains were at a particularly delicate place

Of course, dinosaurs did survive the impact and they’re all around us today. And plenty of other types of animal didn’t survive – certain types of bird, mammal, lizards, plants, mollusks, sharks, marine lizards, plesiosaurs, pterosaurs, insects and planktons – so perhaps its a bit of an over-simplification.

Obviously, but its very nature, getting hit by an asteroid is extremely bad luck – but 75% of all life was extinguished, not simply the part that was inhabited by non-avian dinosaurs. I also object to the term “luck” – but its in a way that I can’t really quantify or explain properly. On the one hand, everything happens by pure dumb luck. On the other hand its neither good luck nor bad luck it just … is. Its just life. Its just living.

Does that make any kind of sense? I’m not sure I can articulate it any better than that. Which makes this slightly less of a rant and more of an incoherent murmuring that drifts off into awkward silence …